Mitt Romney Breaks With Republicans Over Chinese Spy Balloon

Senator Mitt Romney, a Utah Republican, broke with his fellow GOP members over the suspected Chinese surveillance balloon situation, defending President Joe Biden's decision to wait before shooting it down.

Romney was leaving a briefing on the balloon when he told reporters that he believes the U.S. made the right decision by not shooting the balloon the moment it was first spotted in Montana last week.

When asked by reporters whether he agreed with the Biden administration's decision to wait to shoot down the balloon, Romney said: "Yes."

"I believe that the administration, the president, our military and intelligence agencies acted skillfully and with care. At the same time, their capabilities are extraordinarily impressive," Romney said, according to CNN reporter Manu Raju.

Mitt Romney Breaks With Republicans Over Chinese-spy-balloon
Above, Senator Mitt Romney departs from the Senate Chambers during a nomination vote at the U.S. Capitol on December 5, 2022, in Washington, D.C. Romney broke with his fellow GOP members over the suspected Chinese surveillance balloon situation, defending President Joe Biden's decision to wait before shooting it down. Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The Republican senator also told reporters: "Was everything done 100 percent correctly? I can't imagine that would be the case of almost anything we do. But I came away more confident."

The Biden administration downed the balloon Saturday afternoon over the Atlantic Ocean after it flew across American airspace for several days. Chinese officials denounced the White House's decision to shoot down the balloon, previously saying that it was actually an "airship" that was for meteorological research and that it was blown off its planned course.

The Chinese balloon was first spotted in Billings, Montana, which is home to one of three domestic nuclear missile silo fields in America. Ever since it was spotted, calls were repeatedly made to shoot it down.

Biden initially wanted to shoot the balloon down when he was briefed on the situation last week, but national security officials advised against downing it, citing potential safety concerns for people on the ground. The balloon was later shot by an F-22 fighter jet, which fired a missile at the inflatable while it was about six nautical miles off the coast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Romney's Thursday remarks contradict what his fellow Republicans said about the way the balloon situation should have been handled.

"China sent a spy balloon to fly all across America. The Biden administration had a chance to shoot it down over Alaska and they chose to let it spy all across America," Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas told reporters after the briefing, according to The Hill.

Meanwhile, Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska expressed her frustration about the delay in shooting down the balloon after it first entered U.S. airspace off Alaska on January 28 and was detected by North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), according to CNBC.

"As an Alaskan, I am so angry," Murkowski said. "Alaska is the first line of defense for America....It's like this administration doesn't think that Alaska is any part of the rest of the country!"

She also wrote on Twitter Thursday afternoon: "Even in the harshest conditions, our Arctic warriors stationed in Alaska stand ready to defend the homeland. Why wasn't the Chinese spy balloon shot down over Alaska? Americans deserve to know the answer."

However, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Hemispheric Affairs Melissa Dalton defended the decision to shoot it later, saying that "a key part of the calculus for this operation was the ability to salvage, understand and exploit the capabilities of the high-altitude balloon."

"If we had taken it down over the state of would have been a very different recovery operation," she added, according to CNBC. Dalton noted that the freezing and deep waters of the Bering Sea "would make recovery and salvage operations very dangerous."

Newsweek reached out to Senator Mitt Romney's media representatives for comment.